1000 red tori gates line the path to the peak of Mt. Inari. Early morning sun glances off the bright red gates, packed so closely together they seem to capture you in a quiet, mystical world.
Fushimi Inari shrine is perhaps the most iconic picture spot in Kyoto, Japan, and for good reason. The tori gates rise high into the air and run in a never-ending red path, one after another. It’s truly an experience that can’t be missed, not only for the beautiful pictures but also for the tranquility of the hike. Just be sure to beat the rest of the tourist crowds!
I visited in mid-May and managed to miss the Golden Week hordes. The weather was lovely, the trees were lush and green, and the path was not too crowded. After hiking up and down early in the morning, I enjoyed food at the stalls surrounding the shrine and shopped for prayers to take back home.
Fushimi Inari shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the kami of rice and prosperity. Hence, the tori gates are prayers by Japanese businesses for good fortune. You’ll notice a lot of fox, or kitsune, statues around the shrine. They’re traditionally seen as the messengers of Inari, and the key in their mouths are to unlock the rice granary.
How to get there
The JR Nara line will take you directly there from central Kyoto. It’s about 20 minutes by subway. Make sure you’re on the right platform, as we had a bit of trouble and ended up on the wrong line!
The hike is about 4km long and has a 230m elevation gain. At a leisurely pace with plenty of time to stop for pictures and souvenirs, you can go up and down in 2 hours. There’s vending machines and stops for refreshments all along the path, but note that many stores do not open until 9am.
The paths split a number of times, but you can go any way and still make it to the top. At one point, you’ll reach a distinct fork in road with 2 split paths. During high traffic seasons, you’ll hike up along the right hand path. Maps along the trail will also point you in the right way.
Make sure you head out early in the afternoon or later in the evening. Everyone we talked to, from my Japanese friends to our taxi driver, recommended that we get there either before 8am or after 5pm. With good reason – we arrived at 8am and the area was already getting busy, but crowds were thinner the farther up the mountain we went. However, by the time we were leaving, the trains were packed with visitors. The hike is much more enjoyable the less people there are on the trail, so really make an effort to avoid the crowds!
The surrounding area
Other than the beautiful hike, the area around Fushimi Inari is full of shops, food stands, and cafes. After coming down the mountain around 10am, we stopped for a delicious mid-morning snack at the numerous food stands lining the way to the temple. Enjoy some mochi, yakitori, or daifuku – all freshly made and supremely tasty. We also enjoyed browsing the souvenir and trinket shops. You can take home a mini tori gate and write your own prayer, or bring back a prayer inside a little ceramic fox.
Fushimi Inari shrine is a must-see if you’re in Kyoto. Get in some light exercise and take the time to enjoy nature and tranquility – that’s one of the most beautiful things about being in Japan.